Mark Nicholas
Mark Nicholas Mark NicholasRSS FeedFeeds  | Archives
Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

South Africa's superstars of '76

If you think the world's current No. 1 side takes some beating, take a look at their compatriots from 35 years ago

Mark Nicholas

August 23, 2012

Comments: 57 | Text size: A | A

Allan Lamb celebrates his century, West Indies v England, 1st Test, Jamaica, 2nd day, February 25, 1990
Allan Lamb: a hint of genius © Getty Images

Watching Graeme Smith's fine South African side has taken me back to Newlands in 1977, when a group of English schoolboys were taken to see the New Year Currie Cup match between Western Province and Transvaal. The cricket was unflinching and the thrill of seeing such fantastic cricketers up close and in a place of such beauty has lived with me to this day.

The seventies were a golden age. Australia gaves us Lillee and Thomson, Marsh and the Chappells. India had three spinners who captured hearts, and a little opening batsman, Sunil Gavaskar, who resisted the most ferocious bowlers on behalf of hundreds of millions of fanatics who accorded him divine status. There is not much left to say about West Indies, a team that began the decade with Sobers and Kanhai and finished it with Richards, Greenidge, Kallicharran and four extraordinary fast bowlers firing as one. Pakistan had their greatest cricketer, Imran Khan, roaring for his people alongside Majid Khan and Zaheer Abbas. Javed Miandad knocked on the door of the seventies too, an inimitable figure who knew no defeat. Tony Greig led England on a famously successful tour to India, and Mike Brearley won back the Ashes. Ian Botham arrived as Greig left - two allrounders who carried the team with courage and flair - and David Gower began his charming tale.

But the South Africans were in isolation. Apartheid broke hearts in ways that can never be fully understood. If Basil D'Oliveira were still with us, he could explain better than I. The white man's game still managed to forge exceptional cricketers from the sporting culture in which they lived. Club cricket thrived in a competitive environment, with eskies of cold beer and camaraderie at its weekend conclusion. The Currie Cup was played with the ferocity of Test cricket, because that is what it was, South Africa's ultimate test of cricket.

Some of the best players - Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock, Eddie Barlow and Hylton Ackerman, Mike Procter and Peter Pollock - made appearances in World XIs who toured in place of South Africa. Their deeds caught the eye and continued to remind sceptics of the rare talent denied a global stage. Genius might not be the right word when applied to sport but let us say it is for a moment and suggest that South African cricket had its share.

The 1969-70 side that beat Australia 4-0 has become the stuff of legend but by the mid-seventies, say the season of 1976-77, South Africa would have been even better. Better than anyone. The years in isolation pushed the standard of first class cricket off the chart, producing cricketers who vied for top dog with one another as if they were playing for opposing nations, not provinces. Western Province against Transvaal was one such match - no quarter given, none asked. New South Wales and Victoria used to go at each on Boxing Day in a contest that might have matched it. And Barbados against Jamaica had a frisson given to few other Caribbean face-offs. But there was something raw and needy about the Currie Cup. It was a statement to the world and a parade ground for exposure elsewhere.

Barry Richards would have opened the batting with Eddie Barlow. Both played in England, for Hampshire and Derbyshire respectively, and both had a piece of World Series Cricket - though Barlow was running out of years. They reckon he was an inspirational cricketer, capable of lifting himself and others to seemingly impossible deeds. "Bunter" was at his best almost a decade earlier but he wins a place ahead of Kepler Wessels, Henry Fotheringham and Jimmy Cook on his unique ability to change a game with bat or ball from nowhere, even then.

Richards brooks no argument. A perfect technique shone from his output of dazzling strokes. He had time to play like no other, and brought an unparalleled grace and pleasure to the art of batting. Sir Donald Bradman chose him in his all-time greatest team.

Eddie Barlow in action, June 1979
Eddie Barlow: leave it to Bunter © Getty Images

At three is Peter Kirsten, who might just have easily played fly-half for the Springboks. Kirsten followed Barlow to Derbyshire, where he scored a mountain of runs with a sneaky efficiency. His touch play and subtle placement of the ball came from a natural ball-playing eye. Though he appeared in the South African side that was re-admitted in the early nineties, he was as much past his best as Barlow was during WSC. A pity for him, a pity for us.

In 1983, I watched the rebel West Indians play South Africa in a one-day game in Port Elizabeth. Richards made a hundred but Graeme Pollock stole the headlines with a vignette of startling bravura. Hit in the head by Sylvester Clarke, he returned to the wicket an hour or so later, well stitched above the eyebrow, to face the remaining five balls of another Clarke over. Needless to say, Clarke went at him hard. Pollock hit all five balls for four or six. If Sir Garry Sobers or Brian Lara is not the greatest left-hander of all time, Pollock is.

He is at four then. A litany of options follow. Allan Lamb was in Kirsten's vintage and a while away from adventuring to England. Kevin McKenzie was as good a back-foot cutter and puller of the ball as South Africa ever knew. Kenny McEwan had a delicious range of strokes and could put any marginally off-colour attack to bed in the blink of an eye. Hylton Ackerman had a rare talent confused by a raffish disposition. I'm going with Lamb, the one controversial choice, I expect. It's back to the genius thing and he had a hint of it. Risk or reward with Lamby, but given those around him, it is a risk worth taking. How lucky England were.

Lee Irvine comes next, to bat and keep wicket with the sort of musketeering joyousness that Adam Gilchrist brought to the game. He was really very good, with fast hands, neat footwork, and no fear of the consequences. Ray Jennings might have been the stumper; Denis Lindsay might have come out of retirement for the chance, but Irvine it is, for sheer class.

Then two of the most formidably gifted and competitive allrounders that any age of the game has seen. Clive Rice and Mike Procter. More different fellows you could not meet. More trusted comrades you could not find.

Procter made the heart race. He bowled super-quick off a long, dramatic run, with a quirky, near-wrong-footed burst of energy in the delivery stride that brought devastating inswing from both over and around the wicket. He took four in five balls against Hampshire in a cup semi-final in 1977 - Gordon Greenidge fell to the first ball of the over, middle stump ripped from the ground; then a single by David Turner, then mayhem. First, Procter's compatriot, the mighty Richards; then Trevor Jesty and John Rice in a breathtaking hat-trick. If you ever come across the current first-class umpire, Nigel Cowley, ask him about it. He was next and freely admits to being stone-dead lbw to make it five in six for Proccie but, unbelievably, Cowley will tell you, the umpire of the moment, Tommy Spencer, said no. Oh for the DRS in Procter's day. He could bowl big-spinning offbreaks too, catch most things at slip, and was a lovely off-side batsman who scored six consecutive hundreds playing for Rhodesia in the Currie Cup. Only CB Fry and Bradman had ever done that, anywhere.

Mike Procter bowling as umpire Tom Spencer looks on, Gloucestershire v Northamptonshire, County Ground, Northampton, 21 June 1971
Mike Procter: great at eight Ken Kelly / © The Cricketer International

Procter at eight, though, Rice at seven to mop up in case of a tumble. Rice played uncompromising cricket - sort of a Steve Waugh, but if not as good a batsman, a better and certainly faster bowler. He wound up opponents and the opposition spectators in a way that condensed each match into fight-club intensity. With a vicious, skidding bouncer and a defiant, if not always pretty, manner of batsmanship, Rice did as much for Transvaal and Nottinghamshire as Procter did for Gloucestershire, Natal and Rhodesia. Which is saying something.

Garth le Roux was/is a huge man with a personality to match. Strong, aggressive, dynamic, he had an exciting ability to swing the ball out at real pace. His captain at Western Province that year was Barlow, who demanded the young bull went faster, higher, longer. And the bull responded in kind. Batsmen felt the shock of his deliveries through their thumb and forefinger, into their wrist and all the way along their forearm. Often beaten, they would look up and see Garth standing there, telling them it wouldn't be long before the sanctuary of the dressing room.

Le Roux, Procter, Rice, Barlow, all complemented by Vintcent Van der Bijl, the best fast-medium high bounce bowler going around. He took his wickets so cheap, you'd say they had been on sale. Length, line, movement a little away in the air with a wicked nip back off the seam. Big Vince - 6 feet 8 inches of him - big heart, big record: 767 first-class wickets at 16.54. Exceptional bowler, wonderful man.

And finally to the least known of this illustrious band. The legspinner Denys Hobson. A bounder, nearest, I guess, to Abdul Qadir, though without quite the flurry of arms and legs. Hobson truly spun the ball, searching always for wickets and never containment, a perfect approach in this team. His finest hour actually came a year later when he ripped 9 for 54 out of Eastern Province on his home turf at Newlands. It blew a gale in his favour that day, but he knew how to use favour, and with the attack around him - not least Procter's offspin - he would surely have created havoc when the opportunity arose.

Richards, Barlow, Kirsten, Pollock, Lamb, Irvine, Rice, Procter, Le Roux, Van der Bijl, Hobson. And plenty of bench strength. Back against them at your peril. In the impossible argument, we can safely say that this would have been a champion team, with all bases covered and a delighted audience wherever it was on show.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

RSS Feeds: Mark Nicholas

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Luren on (August 24, 2012, 23:56 GMT)

Hi mark, good article however you have omitted the South african non white players of the apartheid era who had difficulty showcasing their skills to the world arena. Examples will be the Chellan brothers, Omar Henry to name a few who with opportunity would have had th great potential of Graeme Pollock and the likes. Examples you see now with the right opportunity and freedom are to name few Makhaya Ntini, Amla, Parnell! A more balanced article will be appreciated.

Posted by Hayat22 on (August 24, 2012, 19:25 GMT)

@johnathonjosephs, Sorry mate, I disagree with your assertion. The 90s stars were helped more by the advent of protective headgear and never had to summon up the reserves of courage that was common in the 70s era, which is perhaps why the 70s and 80s had more lethal bowlers. Maybe the helmet discouraged kids from taking up fast bowling.

Posted by var4peace on (August 24, 2012, 14:57 GMT)

wow! a wonderful article Mr. Nicholas. i enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoy your commentary. You have shown us how much History has cost Cricket & also that Int'l Cricket has missed many moments of History. Just like Gandhiji is the greatest man to not have won the Nobel Peace Prize, Shane Warne the best captain that Australia never had, let us also claim that it is the greatest team never to have had played Int'l Cricket. Let us not spoil the rare moments of romance in sport

Posted by BellCurve on (August 24, 2012, 14:33 GMT)

mriaz001 - In 1983 Sylvester Clarke was the quickest most feared bowler in the world. David Gower and Viv Richards and even Garry Sobers made this very clear. Moreover, the SA side of 1983 hardly looked the same as the theoretical side of 1976. Richards, vd Bijl and Proter were way past their best and only made a handful of appearences. Pollock was almost 40 but still brilliant, albeit not as good as at his best. Lamb was playing for England. Irvine and Barlow were retired. Hobson was replaced by Kourie. Only Kirsten and Le Roux were in their prime - and both were highly effective.

Posted by Venkatb on (August 24, 2012, 13:41 GMT)

The WI teams of the 70s and early 80s struggled in wins against Pakistan, Australia and even India - while their batting was par with Australia, it was their all-out pace attack that set up apart - the intimidation and the bodyline that they started first against India in 76 at Kingston and then went all-out in England - in fact it was England that suffered the most against WI and the English press had a way of exaggerating matters - the "ball of the century" (Warne to Gatting) and the "over of the century"(Holding to Boycott) were all endured by Englishmen. I had seen WI teams in India in the 70s and early 80s, and they were good but not invincible - besides Greenidge and Richards, the rest were average. The WI pace bowlers toned down bouncers against the Aussies because they knew Lillee and Thomson could retaliate - with Proctor, Pollock,Rice and the combustible pair of Le Roux and Van der Bijl, no way would WI have won - SA would have dominated!

Posted by harshthakor on (August 24, 2012, 11:21 GMT)

The South African team of the 1970's was arguably on par with the best West Indies and Australian teams of the 1970's and was on paper amongst the all-tiime great test teams.I am convinced they would have trounced any test taem today,in an era where there is hardly an outstanding champion test team.Imagine the likes of Graeme Pollock,Eddie Barlow,Mike Procter,Clive Rice,Barry Richards,playing in one team.We have batsman like Barry and Graeme in the Tendulkar class and an allrounder in Procter in the Imran Khan class or even higher.The pace of Van de Bijl was also lethal as well as Peter Pollock.

Posted by riaz.m on (August 24, 2012, 8:52 GMT)

No need to speculate "what if...." virtually the same South African team drew 1-1 with an aging "West Indies III "rebel team in Jan 1983 and lost 2-1 in Dec 83/Jan 84 ENOUGH SAID

Posted by Udendra on (August 24, 2012, 5:15 GMT)

wow, a ripper of an article. thanks for bringing us information on SA's glorymen during the apartheid era.

Posted by Meety on (August 24, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

@johnathonjosephs - the 90s were dominated by Oz after deposing of the WIndies. The 70s had 4 top teams (SA, Eng, OZ & WI), the other two, Pak & Ind both had great moments during that time as well. All 6 teams were competitive, by the time the 90s rolled around, the WIndies were in decline & weakened significantly from around 95/96 onwards, England were a joke, Zim & SL were fledgling nations, Pak was up & down, India were firming, NZ were in a slow decline, Oz & Safrica were the only test nations that were consistently good. == == == IMO - the Saffas would of topped the 70s as the best team, but would of been overtaken by the WIndies early in the 80s. It would be hard to work out what the increasingly hectic international schedule would of done to the Saffas, or how the early W/Cups would of panned out. I would imagine (if you could remove the politics), the WIndies v Saffas from say 78 to 83 would of been real heavy weight encounters!

Posted by bobagorof on (August 24, 2012, 1:09 GMT)

A quick look at the scorecard (Mark even provides us a link) shows that the story about Proctor isn't quite right - the first wicket fell with the score on 13, the second at 18 - so there was more than a single taken in between. Proctor still finished with 6/13 off 11 overs though, which is a handy set of figures!

Posted by peterhrt on (August 23, 2012, 23:34 GMT)

One suspects the South African team would have peaked five years earlier - during the tour of Australia planned for 1971-72. They would probably have achieved their first-ever series win in Australia. The 1970 side had been stronger in batting than bowling, which was over-reliant on Procter. A year later van der Bijl, arguably the country's greatest-ever bowler, had arrived. The South Africans would not have visited Australia during the two-year pomp of Lillee and Thomson (1974-76), but the teams would have met in South Africa in a contest too close to call. By 1976-77, Richards, Procter and certainly Barlow, if not the evergreen Graeme Pollock, were past their best. Rice, Cook and McEwan were always more effective in England than on firmer pitches back home. Sylvester Clarke's impact on the rebel matches of the early 1980s suggests that West Indian pace would have prevailed over the South African batting of that period. So South Africa would have led the field around 1968-74.

Posted by cricket__fan on (August 23, 2012, 23:08 GMT)

Their records are great no doubt. But they did not play in India, the West Indies or Pakistan and were never tested at international level against quality spin bowling or quality pace bowling.Playing n county circuit is different to playing at international level.

Posted by philvic on (August 23, 2012, 22:08 GMT)

whether SA or WI would have come out on top is unknowable as it is irrelevant. Certainly not worth getting hot under the collar about. I guess the one choice many people would know nothing about is Denys Hobson. He never played cricket outside SA and therefore was untested in other conditions. I guess the fact that some of the best batsmen in the world like Pollock found him a handful at times suggests he was pretty good and he was certainly fun to watch and ripped the ball like no other SA spinner I have ever seen. Alan Kourie was also very good with more subtle variation in flight etc and an obdurate batsman. Both were miles better than any spinner SA have had since readmission.

Posted by robbied74 on (August 23, 2012, 21:59 GMT)

"outstanding record at the county game does not mean anything" - certainly not now, and perhaps not from the 90s onwards. But in the 70s and 80s, that shows a little bit of ignorance on your part. It was where international cricketers made their living - every county had two quality overseas players on the books. If you could shine in that environment, you had to be a good player. Doubtful the South Africans would have beaten the Windies, but they had some fantastic players regardless.

Posted by AdrianVanDenStael on (August 23, 2012, 19:59 GMT)

I espect this team would have beaten England at least 2-0 in 1976. But how would they have faired in an away series in Pakistan or India? The answer can only be speculative.

Posted by crktcrzy on (August 23, 2012, 17:15 GMT)

Nice read Mark- I don't know why people are arguing about this side being inferior to WI etc- I have little doubt that they would have outclassed WI in the late seventies, if not in early eighties. Richards, Barlow and G. Pollock were invincibles. And the pace attack would surely match, if not outclass WI- Although the likes of Le Roux & Van der Bijl didn't play tests, their WSC & first class record speaks for itself. Van der Bijl is considered mostly as the greatest bowler who never played test cricket. And what a team it makes when you have 3 great all-rounders as Rice, Procter and Barlow- they would be one-day champs as well. The one choice I don't agree with is Lamb. And maybe if including a spinner is not absolute necessity then Hobson could be replaced by Peter Pollock- but still world beaters.

Posted by fredv on (August 23, 2012, 16:39 GMT)

Rice at 7, Proctor at 8. Wow! These guys seemed even bigger in real life as most heroes do. I was very young whenIi first saw them and I thought Garth was the meanest and Vince the tallest cricketers alive. I also saw Garth hit valuable runs, any usually very fast, with a bat that in my hero worship made Pollock's look puny.

Posted by Seether1 on (August 23, 2012, 15:37 GMT)

@OsWood: I agree 100%. I suspect that the Springboks would have lost less badly than the other teams. Thats all, no more no less. The sight of a lily-white team representing a government that West Indians detested would have only further inspired Viv and Co. In fact I would argue that it is a good thing that these 2 teams never met. If they had, writers like Mr Nicholas would not be able to romanticise about what could have been as the result would have been a walloping to SA.

Posted by Chris_P on (August 23, 2012, 15:14 GMT)

@mriaz001. I think you dismiss Barry Richards too easily. In WSC, he was THE outstanding batsman on show & he had to face both the Windies & Australian attack. I liked Kenny Cunnungham, a good honest shield player, but he didnl't play nor toured with any Australian team. The Aussie side then was indeed tired, for sure, after their long tour in India, but they had just beaten the Windies and drew a series in England and beaten India over there, so hardly a pushover. Bill Lawry had just come out of a bumper series against West Indies plus a solid one agianst the Indians. so not sure about that. Even after he was dropped, he was the leading runscorer in the sheffield shield but was still not selected for the 1972 English tour. McKenzie was worn out, true. Graeme Pollock showed he still had it by smashing the rebel Aussie attack a decade later. But, each to their opinion.

Posted by OmanBiek on (August 23, 2012, 14:05 GMT)

Im sorry guys. This SA team are perhaps the second greatest team of all time. Our WI team of that era were invincible simply because they never ALLOWED ANYONE TO BETTER THEM. In my version of this 'what if' scenario, had they played each other in any singnificant series that SA team would have been better contenders than any other team around at the time - but to say they would beat WI is to massively overrate SA and to ignore one dubious point - that SA team were the best of the lot in SA at that time. There is still a raging debate in the WI if at any point during our great years taht we actually played a full team that represented the best stock in the Caribbean. We were literally spoiled for riches. At best SA would have done what Aus did initially to Llyod and his men in the series down-under when we were absolutely hammered by the aussies. But WI would have come back stronger and better. And asking those guys to face the 'racist cricket team'? WI played for black pride back then

Posted by landl47 on (August 23, 2012, 13:57 GMT)

I think instead of Lamb I would take Ali Bacher, as captain. He wasn't as good a bat, but he was a great captain and subsequently managed SA's return after apartheid fell. He was, incidentally, a huge force in bringing non-white South Africans into the game. @allblue: I agree completely. I was a member of Middlesex CCC in 1980 and saw a lot of Van Der Bijl. He was the South African Joel Garner, who bowled so accurately that he was almost impossible to get away. @gul_khan: I don't think many people these days would argue that the boycott wasn't justified, it played a part in bringing the loathsome apartheid regime down. It is a tragedy that so many South Africans were shut out by the system. Anyone who doubts that should read Dolly's autobiography. However, from a sporting perspective, many top-class sportsmen never got the chance to play test cricket. That's a small thing beside the horror of apartheid, but a sad by-product nonetheless.

Posted by riaz.m on (August 23, 2012, 13:38 GMT)

Outstanding record at the county game does not mean anything ask Ramprakash and Hick..would this team really have stood up to the likes of Imran,Kapil Dev,Lillee and Thomson and the West Indies fast bowlers day in day out? South African dreamers are riding on the 4-0 beating of a poor tired and demotivated Australian side in 1969/70,with fading starts like Lawry and McKenzie and others destined to obscurity like Cunningham and Freeman who were caught by a young and hungry side that hadn't played tests for 3 years, and what of the non white players of the time the pre-decessors of Amla,Prince,Dumny,Petersen ,Nitini,perhaps they were better than the "star" like Hobson you selected.

Posted by Chris_P on (August 23, 2012, 13:33 GMT)

Great reading, Mark. I would add that Graeme Pollock would have eaten any attack in the world. Him against Lillee & Thommo at their best, that owuld have sold any out any stadium. This was the last of the decades when batsmen faced brutal fast bowling without helmets or much protective gear. Now that was a test of courage. techniques against short pitched bowling has fallen since those days. John Traicos would still have been qualified to play for South Africa?

Posted by scritty on (August 23, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

Would love to have seen SA Vs WI back then. My money would be on WI to win reasonably comfortably. I saw many games where Richards, Greenidge, LLoyd faced the SA bowlers of the day in English county cricket. The WI batters almost always had the upper hand. LIkewise I saw Holding and Croft against Barry Richards,Allan Lamb,Mike Proctor and others, and usually the WI bowlers won out - but the contest was far closer than any English team could manage.

Posted by riaz.m on (August 23, 2012, 13:29 GMT)

reall Mark world beaterrs

Posted by ATIMAYANK on (August 23, 2012, 13:27 GMT)

Tells me that the windies were unbeatable because this side wasnt there. Would have surely give them a run for their money. A true loss for cricket :(

Posted by Punter_28 on (August 23, 2012, 12:57 GMT)

It was indeed a pity that the world never saw these stars. They would have definitely given the marauding Windies of '70's & '80's a run for their money. Clive Rice emerged as the best all rounder in a tournament held at HK which had participants in the likes of Botham, Kapil, Imran & Hadlee !! Poor Barry and Graeme , but for the isolation , they would have broken many a records. Surely, this game of Cricket was the greatest loser.

Posted by Graeme_Pollock on (August 23, 2012, 12:57 GMT)

Would have enjoyed playing in this side...:) My choice as captain would have been Clive.

Posted by BellCurve on (August 23, 2012, 12:56 GMT)

@Ierfaan Cassiem - The Howa Bowl was not exactly the Currie Cup. Faiek Davids, for example, had a brilliant Howa Bowl record, but failed when he was given the opportunity to play in the Currie Cup after isolation ended. Nevertheless, you are right to single out Saait Magiet as the premier Howa Bowl allrounder. With 2650 runs @ 29.12 and 171 wickets @ 12.99 he must have been special. Maybe he was the Vernon Philander of his era? I find it strange that CricInfo does not have a short biography about him. Also, don't forget Omar Henry. A genuine allrounder that could have had a decent Test record. Then there is of course also Basil D'Oliviera, who missed his 15 best years as a Test player due to apartheid. Imagine he played all those years; he could have been mentioned alongside Kallis, Khan, Miller and Sobers. All we can do is speculate...

Posted by Venkatb on (August 23, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

Growing up in the 70s and watching perhaps the best era of competitive cricket in English County cricket, these players were truly the best in the game - no other cricket side comes anywhere close. We talk of the dominant Windies teams of the 80s but much of their dominance came from their pack of fast bowlers - perhaps Viv Richards became a dominant batsman because opposing fast bowlers dared not intimidate him lest the WI bowlers retaliate! In contrast the SA players of the 70s were a class apart with each dominating as individuals and fitting into multicultural teams. When Sobers retired from the Notts side, his replacement Rice became an able replacement - Ken McEwan was a key #3 player in a strong Essex side. However, having said all that, I think the 4-0 victory over the Aussies in 69-70 is being overblown - after a grueling 3 month tour of India, weakened by illnesses, they flew straight to SA - perhaps the results would have been different had they gone there well rested!

Posted by philvic on (August 23, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

It was a fantastic era to watch Curry cup cricket in and I think I remember the WP vTVl game you refer to. That team would have been great - I would have had Kenny McEwan rather than Lamb (who was deliciously talented but rather frustrating in getting out at the wrong time) and while Irvine was a very good batsman I am not sure he was the best keeper. Gavin Pfuhl was another fantastic contender for this. The other point is about all those other potential stars of other races that never had opportunity.

Posted by Swampy5 on (August 23, 2012, 12:39 GMT)

Fine cricketers, but can't help but wonder how many of them would have still been in the side had proper opportunities been given to black, coloured and asian players (not to mention in all walks of life)? It's also worth remembering that in 82-84 some of these players, while still first choice SA cricketers (albeit most at the end of their careers) played against a Windies B/C -grade team in two rebel tours, drawing one and losing the other. Still hard to say but I suspect this all-white apartheid era South African team would have found the great Windies team of the 70-80s just as difficult as every other side did.

Posted by Martensad on (August 23, 2012, 12:37 GMT)

Hobson was good, but Alan Kourie, left arm off spinner, of the same period, was better - more wickets at a better average and with the bonus of a batting average of 35. He might struggle to get into the team on "fitness" grounds these days, as he was Samit Patel shape. Anyway, "Kourie and Rice" would be perfect for the headline writers. Jennings was a better wicketkeeper, I think - good batsman and fiercely competitive. Unlucky to miss out (again) would be Jeffries, a great swing bowler and Adrian Kuiper, a hugely destructive allrounder with bat and ball.

Posted by Robster1 on (August 23, 2012, 12:27 GMT)

A simply supreme side and one that would have dominated today's test world with ease. What an XI. For all sorts of reasons more sad too that this potential South African team weren't able to play against the then quite mighty West Indies. Now that would have been some series.

Posted by gnaniramchand on (August 23, 2012, 11:49 GMT)

A real world beaters - would have undoubtedly swept all opponents.

Posted by HumungousFungus on (August 23, 2012, 11:40 GMT)

A fabulous article Mark. I was lucky enough to see all of Richards, Kirsten, Lamb, Rice, and Procter in the flesh during their largely phenomenally successful stints in county cricket, where they generally stood head and shoulders above much of the competition. There is always an element of "what if" to this sort of Fantasy Cricket, but, on paper on least, you have picked a team here that would have given the West Indian and Australian teams of the time a very serious run for their money, and that would have comprehensively battered all of the other Test playing countries, England included. Any team that could leave out the likes of Kenny McEwan, John Traicos, and, lest we forget, Tony Greig, would take some beating!

Posted by sonir on (August 23, 2012, 11:28 GMT)

This team would of certainly beat any team in the world, including the Great West Indian team. But I really do think that Kevin McKenzie would of edged Lamb to the no. 5 spot. Procter and Rice in the same team would of been a revelation. Would of been a brilliant, brilliant team!!! A bowling attack of Van der Bijl, Le Roux, Procter, Rice and Hobson would of destroyed any batting order and not to forget the depth in batting right till no. 9. And u right in saying, plenty of reserves. The SA 2nd team would of been the 2nd best team in the world, with the likes of Cook, Fothers, Wessels, Jennings, McKenzie, McEwan, Stephen Jefferies, etc.AS I THINK BACK, APARTHED HAS REALLY DEPRIVED THE WORLD OF GOOD CRICKETERS, amongst other things!!!!

Posted by allblue on (August 23, 2012, 10:59 GMT)

Whenever the question 'who was the best player never to play Test cricket' is raised, I think (behind Geoff Boycott's mother obviously) of Vintcent Van deer Bijl. As a young man he had just got into the Test squad for that final series in 1970 but didn't get a game, so his whole career was encompassed by isolation. I had the pleasure of seeing him play in his one season in County cricket, when as a 32 year old he took 85 wickets at 14 apiece for Middlesex. But for the politics, he would have been one of the greats.

Posted by VivtheGreatest on (August 23, 2012, 10:32 GMT)

@jonathanjosephs, spot on.In the nineties at least four teams viz Australia, Pakistan, West Indies and South Africa had great bowling attacks whereas in most other eras it was just one or two teams

Posted by Simoc on (August 23, 2012, 10:30 GMT)

Nice article. I was at Gloster Park, W.A for WSC when Barry Richards carved out a double century while an injured Gordon Grenidge and Viv Richards also scored tons. Barry Richards was the elite on this day taking Dennis Lillee, and the rest, apart in all directions as one does to a younger brother in the backyard. It was so easy. Then late in the day Imran Khan was ripping into the OZ batsman with equal relish.

Posted by AllroundCricketFan on (August 23, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

Nice article Nicholas. Although I am sure the people of colour in the then SA would have felt hard done by, by the authorities not allowing them to play on a equal standing. Think of the generations of Dollys, Amlas, Ntinis, Gibbs, Philanders lost. No mention of that? How many of these people did not have a look in. Who knows, Proctor and Richards might have had to do a KP and Trott as they would not have been able to get into the 'true' SA team.

Posted by axm359 on (August 23, 2012, 10:18 GMT)

Mark, I totally understand that this is fun to do..a sort of fantasy team. In reality though, a team is more than just a collection of talented people. Who knows what kind of chemistry would evolve in the team.

Posted by Beazle on (August 23, 2012, 10:16 GMT)

If you look up on YouTube " Cricket rebel Tour" you will see 55 minutes of Australia's 1986 tour to South Africa when Graeme Pollock was 42 and still the best player on view ! Magic stuff just to see the guy against the so called modern players but I can't deny that for all his brilliance, there is still an undercurrent of melancholy watching the games. I cannot forget that at the same time as these matches, Nelson Mandela was still 5 years away from release !

Posted by gul_khan on (August 23, 2012, 10:03 GMT)

It's nice to look back through rose tinted glasses. It's also telling that all the cricketers mentioned are white, even though at the time South Africa had a population of 21 million people, of which 16 million were black. The isolation of the nation from international cricket is something that the authorities can be proud of. And when journalists like to reminisce about the 1970's SA team, they should reflect on the many black cricketers who weren't given any sort of voice; be it sporting, political or social.

Posted by Pablo123 on (August 23, 2012, 10:02 GMT)

Hey Mark - Great article that exemplifies the the very core of SA cricket in those days. The men mentioned here, I have no doubt, would have beaten the world. They were the pinnacle of Cricket here in SA, and when they got their chance to shine in World Series or County, their reputations were upheld in glaring fashion. A case in point would be that of Vince van der Bijl's achievements in county cricket. It is now folklore what he did for Middlesex, one can read an article on it here

The rest of those guys that make up that team were colossal. I was but a kid, but every time cricket was on TV or on the radio, one would hear of another Pollock 100 - it was like groundhog day - every morning you wake up and there was another Pollock 100. It is a real shame the world never got to see the greats of those days.

Posted by BellCurve on (August 23, 2012, 10:00 GMT)

I agree with every selection, except maybe Kourie in for Hobson. The bench strenght is fairly remarkable: Kepler Wessels, Jimmy Cook, Henry Fotheringham, Ken McKewan, Kevin McKenzie, Hilton Ackerman, Robin Smith, Chris Smith, Tony Greig, Alan Kourie, Ray Jennings, Stephen Jeffries, Rupert Hadley - that's another 13 players, all of intermational standard

Posted by Seether1 on (August 23, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

Yep. This team definitely had the players to beat everyone they played against. Of course, this is only because the racist apartheid government of the 1970s/80s would not have allowed them to play against the West Indies. Nobody could stop the Windies. Just ask Lille and Thompson.

Posted by SuperSharky on (August 23, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

Brilliant article Mark Nicholas !!! I wish I had your eyes in 1977. My Dad always told me about the talent of the 70's cricketers, but it gets color reading your article. Brilliant words from the pen.

Posted by robheinen on (August 23, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

Very well written, Mark. It made me search youtube for the videos which indeed show magnificent cricket.

Posted by   on (August 23, 2012, 8:33 GMT)

Pity Mark did not see the black cricketers. There were some fantastic black players playing on the other side of the track. Guys like Braima Isaacs. He was a wicket keeper who stood up to genuine quick bowlers on matting wickets. Saat Magiet was a all rounder in the Botham mould. Fast bowler and aggressive batsman. There were also numerous top class spin bowlers who would have been much better than Hobson. The performances of the Amlas, Ntinis, Duminys and Philanders of this world should give a clue of how strong black cricket was.

Posted by turingfan on (August 23, 2012, 8:17 GMT)

Growing up in the 1970s I was privileged to live in Worcestershire and see Basil D'Oliveira play for the county. He was my cricketing hero for the way he played. Brochures saying "... and England" was all I knew about him playing for England, never mind the political history.

How did Dolly do in the great 1969-70 South African team? Oh wait.

At the time I too looked forward to seeing the obviously great South African team visit England, which was still listed in Wisden as a forthcoming tour. But now I've grown up and in retrospect the cricketing isolation of South Africa is one of the things that Cricket should be proudest of.

For sure celebrate the achievements of these great individuals, but let's not mourn the loss of that 1970s team in any way. And as an English cricket follower I salute the great new South African team which has rightly taken the crown as No 1.

Posted by Force01 on (August 23, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

Wonderful article Mark. Would have loved to see this top class team square up against the mighty WestIndians. That is a matchup I would surely travel back in time to see.

Posted by Romanticstud on (August 23, 2012, 7:21 GMT)

If you go into the 80s ... I would say Cook ... Fothers ... Kirsten ... Pollock ... Rice ... McKenzie ... Kourie ... Jennings ... Le Roux ... Hanley ... Jeffries ... as my main 11 and also in the mix somewhere ... Seeff ... Pienaar ... Henry ... Lamb ... the Smith brothers ... Lazard ... McMillan ... Kuiper ...

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (August 23, 2012, 6:11 GMT)

The 70's? Pshttt. The 90's was what it was all about. McGrath, Warne, Bevan, Ponting, Hayden, Langer, Border, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Dravid, Kumble, Srinath, Wasim, Waqar, Inzamam, Youhana, Saqlain Mushtaq, Anwar, Jayasuriya, Aravinda, Murali, Vaas, Brian Lara, Ambrose, Walsh, Chanderpaul, Gayle, Stephen Fleming, Pollock, Alan Donald, Gibbs, my god the list can go on and on

Posted by legfinedeep on (August 23, 2012, 5:54 GMT)

Brilliant. I feel sad reading this piece to be reminded of the loss of cricketing genius we could have witnessed at international level. It's sad that these legends lost their time in the spotlight in which I know they would have shone brilliantly.

Posted by 777aditya on (August 23, 2012, 5:26 GMT)

Apartheid was indeed a black chapter which denied the previous generation such a talented team. My dad always rates Barry Richards very highly (and back then he heard of him only on radio commentary) and later had a chance to see him in 2-3 matches. To this date, he is in awe. Mark Nicholas?! well, he is a storyteller in my grandma's vintage! You see, all in the family!

Posted by satanswish on (August 23, 2012, 4:42 GMT)

Beautiful article Mark. South Africa really deserved their top spot for a long time.

Comments have now been closed for this article

Email Feedback Print
Mark NicholasClose
Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

    What is Rohit Sharma's role?

Should India have practised slip catching in the nets? Who will play at the G?

    'I'd like to have faced the West Indies quicks'

Northamptonshire's David Willey picks his ideal partner for a jungle expedition, and talks about his famous dad

    Benn shows up in body and spirit

Tony Cozier: The spinner has brought in a sense of discipline into his bowling and behaviour on the field since his Test comeback

    The return of Bob Simpson

Rewind: When the 41-year-old former captain came out of retirement to lead Australia against India

Bowling to blame for India's poor overseas record

Kartikeya Date: The inability to build pressure by denying runs, even on helpful pitches, is India's biggest problem

News | Features Last 7 days

What ails Rohit and Watson?

Both batsmen seemingly have buckets of talent at their disposal and the backing of their captains, but soft dismissals relentlessly follow both around the Test arena

Hazlewood completes quartet of promise

Josh Hazlewood has been on Australian cricket's radar since he was a teenager. The player that made a Test debut at the Gabba was a much-improved version of the tearaway from 2010

Australia in good hands under proactive Smith

The new stand-in captain has the makings of a long-term leader, given his ability to stay ahead of the game

Karn struggles to stay afloat

The failed gamble of handing Karn Sharma a Test debut despite him having a moderate first-class record means India have to rethink who their spinner will be

Vijay 144, Ganguly 144

Stats highlights from the first day of the second Test between Australia and India in Brisbane

News | Features Last 7 days